AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club Respond to New Clubhouse Being Halted

Last week Henley Town Council announced that they were pausing the project to redevelop the land next to Tesco (353-357 Reading Road) into around 30 residential units (40% affordable), 2 retail units and a new clubhouse and associated parking for Henley Hockey Club and AFC Henley after a recent cost estimate would result in a significant deficit.

Not only was the recent cost estimate showing a significant deficit but the current high specification of the clubhouse design would not be supported by the relevant funding bodies such as Sport England, the Football Association, and the Football Foundation.

Chair of AFC Henley and Chair of Henley Hockey were asked to respond to this announcement after working with the Council on this for over 4 years.

Trevor Howell from AFC Henley comments, “I have been involved in this project since 2012 when the idea of putting 353-357 Reading Road in the Neighbourhood Plan was first mooted. The assumption was that the proceeds from the sale of the site to a developer would cover the cost of new clubhouses for both AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club.  Once the project was formally included in the NP, and the NP was passed in the 2016 referendum, serious discussions began between all relevant parties.

“It is frustrating that, after all this time, the sums have not added up.  However, whilst it is disappointing that the financial unviability has killed the project in its current form, we remain positive and optimistic, especially as Henley Town Council have indicated that they will consider other possibilities. We look forward to hearing what ideas they may have, although where the money will now come from is not clear.

“AFC Henley deserves decent facilities. We have grown into a substantial organisation operating over three grounds with some 600 players registered for teams and coaching modules. We’re frankly bursting at the seams. We have 28 teams, including a recently formed adult women’s squad. We are the fifth largest club in the East Berks Football Alliance league, which stretches from Reading to Ascot.

“Assuming that any future proposals will focus on football-only provision, this will be of great interest to the Football Association and their funding arm, the Football Foundation, because they are already very committed to the prospect of AFC Henley becoming one of their regional football hubs. They have already offered to finance up to 75% of the cost of a 3G all-weather pitch, but it is not certain whether they would extend their funding to a contribution to the cost of a new clubhouse. As we enjoy the full support of Oxfordshire FA I will be proposing to Henley Town Council that we approach them for help in securing increased funding from our national body.”

Chris Baker from Henley Hockey Club said, “In all honesty we were hardly surprised by this decision although naturally very disappointed.

“The decision by HTC based on finances alone is something that should have been worked out from the beginning. It should have been a pretty simple exercise. Unfortunately neither club was party to these numbers (until its conclusion) but the numbers seem to vary considerably and over long periods of time.

“One item in your summary stated “It was also specified that development of the residential units should not start until replacement community sports facilities were open and accessible.” This statement is actually in the Neighbourhood Plan but we came under extreme pressure to allow the building of the new units at the same time the building of the new clubhouses began. It was something that we did not like but in the end became something of a fait accompli because we would have been excluded from the project unless we agreed.

“This round of this project has lasted 4.5 years and it never got to planning. The previous, similar project lasted almost 8 years and also got nowhere.  If there is to be a third project it really needs to be resolved quickly.

So we are hugely disappointed to say nothing of the fact that we spent a lot of time adhering to many different proposals put to us, frequently without reply.”

Chair of the 353-357 Reading Road Working Group and Henley Mayor Cllr Ken Arlett said, “This was a difficult decision, but we believe that we cannot deliver the objectives of the current project in a way which will not result in a substantial deficit.  We want to work with stakeholders, statutory bodies and funders to get the best outcome for Henley, for that reason we have decided to regroup.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank the developer for their support. We will now consider our options for achieving the original goals of this project in an effective and financially viable way.”